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Against her coaches’ advice, Amanda Vestri led the pack for the first 3,000 meters of the Florida State Invitational Cross Country Invitational in early February. But over the latter half of the race, she began to fade — especially over the final 800 meters. Other runners saved more energy for the finish and passed her, and Vestri finished a disappointing seventh — her worst cross country finish of the season.
“While she found herself pretty comfortable towards the front of the pack, I think she learned that that’s not the best strategy,” said Raynee Degrio, Syracuse’s assistant coach for distance runners.
Vestri has improved her racing tactics and meet finishes since she began training with the Syracuse coaching staff as a transfer from Iowa State in 2019. Vestri has worked on her positioning and energy output, tactically deciding when to let others lead and when to step up the pace. An All-ACC selection in both track and cross-country this season, Vestri won Syracuse’s lone individual title at the ACC Championships. At the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Monday, she placed 71st, a career best result.
“Something that I never really considered was that you could actually win by running smarter instead of just going all out,” Vestri said.
Vestri transferred to Syracuse two years ago and immediately became one of the Orange’s best female cross country runners, placing ninth at the ACC Championships and 13th at the NCAA Regional Championships.
Soon after Regionals, Vestri sustained a stress fracture in her lower back, forcing her onto crutches for a month and a half and causing her to miss the indoor track season. Due to COVID-19, the outdoor season was canceled.
But this year, Vestri has been able to run more miles and go through more intense workouts since the stress fracture. After almost 10 months of no competition, Vestri won all three regular season races she participated in for the 2020 cross country season.
“(We’ve worked on) giving her the confidence to not lead,” Degrio said. “That tends to be really hard for some people to not want to take control of the race, and for Amanda, she can control the race even by not leading.”
At the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Monday, Vestri followed the same advice from her coaches — hide from the lead, draft off other runners and conserve energy for the finish.
“We always joke about ‘if the camera can’t see you, if you’re off camera, then that’s a good thing,’” Vestri said.
She can control the race even by not leading
Raynee Degrio, Syracuse assistant coach for distance runners
Vestri remained within the top 50 runners for the first half of the 6,000-meter race, staying within striking distance but in the second pack of runners. In the final 3,000 meters, Vestri fell behind the pace but still finished 71st.
While the strategy didn’t work against the best runners in the country, she’s had success at the conference level. The ACC Cross Country Championships in November was the first time she seriously implemented those race tactics, she said. Head coach Brien Bell told her to hide in the pack, and pointed out where on the course to make her move to the front. Vestri finished in second place –– a career best result in a conference championship meet.
And it worked for her again at the ACC indoor track championship. For the first 14 laps of the 5,000-meter race at the ACC indoor championship, Vestri stayed near the front of the pack, letting her competitors get ahead. But in the final 2,200 meters, Vestri increased her speed, climbed to the front and thinned the field to a small group of five runners who could stay with her.
A few laps later, that group was down to two. With three laps left, Vestri shifted her pace up another gear, dropping her only competition. In the final two laps, Vestri began lapping other runners.
She won her section by almost seven seconds and the 5,000-meter title by almost six.
“This was a long time coming to be honest,” Vestri said.
The post How Amanda Vestri became Syracuse’s top distance runner appeared first on The Daily Orange.